How To Repair A Damaged Or Torn Canvas Painting

No matter how careful we are with our artwork, occasionally canvas paintings can get damaged. Some of the most famous paintings in the world have sustained damage over the years and have needed repairs made to the canvas. What at first can seem like a complete disaster, is in actual fact probably repairable, let me show you how.

First let me show you the damage that I’m going to repair. This happened when a friend who was visiting my studio accidentally knocked over a big wooden print stand, the corner of which went right through this painting as it was sitting on the floor leaning up against the wall.

how to repair a damaged canvas painting

As you can see the damage to the canvas was quite substantial, not only had the tear gone right through the painting, but the canvas had torn in two directions, both diagonally and horizontally.

how to repair a whole in a canvas painting

You can see here that the fibres of the canvas were pulled apart when the damage occurred, leaving a jagged uneven edge.

how to repair a torn canvas oil painting

If this painting were a priceless Rembrandt ( perhaps ‘Night Watch’, which has been damaged many times since it was painted in 1642 ) I would align all of the individual fibres of the canvas and glue each one back together separately. However, this painting is not a priceless Rembrandt, it’s a priceless Chris Chalk, and as he is still here to repaint the painting once the canvas is repaired, I only need to glue a patch to the back of the canvas to make the repair.

equipment needed to repair a damaged canvas painting

What you’ll need to repair a canvas painting is: a piece of canvas the same ( or at least similar) to that of the original canvas, a pair of sharp scissors, and some acid free glue (in this case PVA – Polyvinyl acetate).

PVA Polyvinyl acetate glue

First using your scissors to cut a piece of your spare canvas to make a patch. Make sure when you do this the patch is large enough to cover the damaged area of the painting, plus at least 3cm extra overlap, so that the patch can be glued to plenty of undamaged canvas around the tear. Once you’ve cut your patch to the correct size, apply PVA glue to one side of it.

fixing canvas patch to damaged oil painting

With the painting laying face-down on a clean flat hard surface, offer-up the canvas patch to the back of the painting and push it down into position. Make sure you’ve applied enough PVA glue so that every part of the patch is glued to the original canvas. If you have any excess PVC that get’s pushed out from under the patch just wipe it up with a wet cloth, PVA is water soluble and cleans-up easily.

canvas painting repair

Make sure the new patch is in the correct position and that the damaged area of the canvas is under the middle of the new patch. You can see here, because the damage to my painting was near the edge of the painting, to achieve that I’ve had to push part of my new patch under the wooden stretcher-bar.

mending a damaged canvas painting

Once the patch is placed in the correct position we need to place another flat surface down onto the back of the patch so that as the glue dries it creates a perfectly flat repair. I’m using a thin sheet of hardboard to do this.

gluing a damaged canvas painting

Again, because the damage in my case is very near the edge of the painting, I have had to push the thin sheet of hardboard I’m using between the original canvas and the wooden stretcher-bars, not just in the middle of the painting, but also on the right-hand edge.

wait for PVA glue to dry when repairing painting

Once you’ve got you patch applied and your piece of board laying flat on top of it, you need to place a weight of some description on top of that to keep everything is position and to make sure a good bond is formed between the patch and the original canvas. Once you’ve done that you need to let the PVA dry for at least 24 hours before doing anything else.

finished painting repair

Once the glue had dried and you’ve removed the piece of hardboard and the weight your repair should look something like this.

repaired oil painting

The new canvas patch should be glued to the original canvas right up to the edges. If it isn’t, and the edges of the patch can still be lifted up, you’ll need to work a little more PVA glue under the unglued edges with match stick (or something similar), replace the board and weight onto the back of the painting, and wait another 24 hours for that to dry.

front of repaired canvas painting

This is what the front of my painting looks like after the patch repair has been made to the rear.

successful painting repair job

If you look closely you can see my repair was very successful. The canvas is even and flat once again, and all the edges are lined up well. You can however see that there are some stray/loose fibres, that’s not a problem, we’ll sort that out next.

liquin oleopasto used to repair damaged canvas oil painting

To paint over the repaired area I mix a little Liquin Oleopasto medium into the paint that I use. Liquin is a medium that artists can add to oil paint and is mainly used to speed up drying times in every day oil paining, Oleopasto is just a much thicker form of this medium and helps to fill in any indentations in the repaired area as I repaint.

perfect repair of a damaged and torn canvas painting

One of the keys to repainting a canvas like this is to repaint more than just the repaired area. Like with all painting, looseness/tightness of brushwork should match that of the rest of the painting, in my case other parts of my painting are painted with quite thick loose paint, namely the foreground wall and rocks, so this new more thickly painted area doesn’t stand out. You can see I continued repainting across the horizon line so that it all matched the newly repaired area – you might say the repair is hidden in plain sight. I used a palette knife to mix the new paint/oleopasto mix, and put the paint on quite thickly and deliberately uneven.

repaired oil painting torn canvas

Here is the final result; a permanent repair and will last as long as the rest of the painting, and one that is unnoticeable unless one looks at the back of the painting to see the patch. Of course when selling a repaired painting like this it goes without saying you should tell the buyer.

See the framed repaired canvas painting here

If you have any questions just get in touch.



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